This article deals with cameras used for traffic surveillance and control. I classify traffic cameras into two types: red light and speed control cameras.
Red light cameras take a picture of the license plate of a vehicle that passes through an intersection after the light has turned red.
Typically, they are adjusted to ignore the vehicle, if it is already in the intersection as the light turns red. A trained interpreter then reads the violator's license number, looks up his address and sends him a ticket.
Red light cameras are appearing everywhere. Are these cameras making the roads safer or, as some claim, more dangerous? On the surface, it looks like these cameras can deter a lot of the side impact collisions that are a direct result of drivers running red lights.
One of the things we have to constantly watch out for when dealing with today's politicians is that they say everything they do is for our welfare, but in reality there always seems to be a financial incentive involved.
This seems to be the case when dealing with red light cameras. Many engineers contend that there are better ways to prevent side impact collisions.
Making the yellow light longer tends to dramatically reduce the amount of red light violators. Since red light equipment companies get a cut of the revenue from traffic tickets, they tend to reduce yellow light times when they install the equipment.
One study conducted by the Virginia Department of Transportation, increased the yellow light time from 4.00 seconds to 5.50 seconds. Red light violations captured by the camera dropped from 52.1 per day to 2 per day.
Just out of curiosity, I went out and measured the yellow light duration on a Chicago street where they have a red light camera. It was 3.00 seconds. No wonder they've made 18 million dollars from twenty cameras since 2003!
Another way to stop side impact crashes is to engineer both intersection lights to be red for a period of time. Just as one light turns red, don't let the cross traffic go immediately. Wait a second until the stragglers get through, before turning the light green and letting the cross traffic go. I haven't seen any studies on this, but logically, this seems like a real good solution.
Big brother type of surveillance, has a psychological impact as well. I personally believe that everyone should stop at red lights. I'm never in too much of a hurry. I haven't gotten into an accident or a moving violation for more than twenty years.
In spite of my good record, I've run red lights many times throughout the years. I may have had a good reason for it or it may have been a mistake, I can't quite remember now. If this equipment were installed, I would have been punished numerous times for my mistakes.
Everyone, even with the best intentions, will make mistakes. Wouldn't it be better to design a system that compensates for our mistakes and helps prevent side impact collisions, rather than punish us and still allow this type of collision to occur?
Red light cameras create more rear end collisions. They lower the side collisions by making use of people's fear of punishment, which gets them to slam on their brakes to avoid being fined. People can condition themselves to be careful because they fear punishment, but they can't condition themselves to spontaneous situations that may cause them to make mistakes.
Speed cameras are still not that prevalent in the United States, but they've been used for years in the UK. In most cases, red light cameras can be converted to speed cameras or they can be set up to catch speeders during the green light period and catch red light violators when the light turns red.
These cameras, like red light cameras, take a picture of the violator's license who is traveling a pre-set amount above the speed limit. The picture is analyzed by trained reviewers, the violator's address is determined, and a citation mailed.
There are two main reasons opponents contest this type of equipment. First, they say that an increase in speed does not result in more fatal accidents. Next, they believe that keeping below a specific limit just to avoid the cameras gets people to ignore road conditions and actually causes more accidents.
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